Less than two weeks after announcing that anyone arrested for DUI would have his or her name posted on Twitter by the Riverside Police Department, Police Chief Thomas Weitzel has reversed course — for now.
Weitzel told the Landmark last week that he would withhold the names of those arrested for DUI until he hears back from the Illinois Attorney General and the village’s risk management insurance carrier, of whom he has asked for an opinion regarding the proposed practice.
“On [Dec. 16] I wrote a letter to our insurance carrier, IRMA, to see if it will increase our exposure to lawsuits and to the Illinois Attorney General to see if what we’d be doing is legal,” said Weitzel, who added that he’s convinced tweeting out the names of those arrested for DUI is allowed by the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
“Some people love FOIA when it doesn’t touch them,” said Weitzel.
Weitzel on Dec. 9 issued a press release announcing the new policy of tweeting the names of those arrested for DUI in Riverside. The village routinely tweets arrests, but only includes the gender, age and hometown of the arrestee. Despite the announcement on Dec. 9, the department had not yet tweeted any arrestees’ names.
Since the announcement, Weitzel said his department has been flooded with calls and emails about the proposed policy.
“It’s been about 50-50, but the ones against it have been extremely nasty,” said Weitzel. “Other residents who have contacted the police department think it’s illegal and there are those who don’t think we should be voluntarily giving out the information, that we should make anyone who wants that information jump through hoops.”
Weitzel said the policy was announced in conjunction with a period of intensive traffic enforcement around the holidays. Each year, Riverside gets grant funding from the Illinois Department of Transportation for periodic intensive enforcement periods, with a particular focus on seatbelts and impaired driving.
“We wanted to come up with a unique idea to discourage drunk driving,” said Weitzel, whose department makes scores of drunken-driving arrests each year. Alcohol has been a factor in numerous crashes, some of them fatal, in Riverside and neighboring suburbs in recent years.
According to Weitzel, he’s found many police agencies who release names of arrestees on their Facebook pages. However, he said he couldn’t find an agency using Twitter to do it.
Weitzel mentioned that of the 500-plus followers of the Riverside Police Department’s Twitter feed, a good number of them are teenagers and young adults, a demographic Weitzel wants to reach.
“I didn’t think we’d really be breaking any ground,” said Weitzel. “It’s the Twitter platform that seems to be really bothering people.”
So for the time being, if you’re arrested for DUI in Riverside, your name won’t be tweeted to the world. Riverside police will continue to tweet information about the arrests, but without names.